On the Deep Valley Book Festival

I have the opportunity tomorrow to discuss historical fiction with a panel at the Deep Valley Book Festival. This virtual event is free, and I recommend it for anyone interested in writing or in engaging with writers and book lovers.

The panels include a talk from keynote speaker and author Cindy Wilson, who will discuss the process of bringing the Hard Winter of 1880-1881 to fiction form in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Wilson is the author of The Beautiful Snow.

Other panels will focus on the process of bringing a book to publication, connecting writers to readers, and writing with humor and creativity.

It promises to be the perfect way to stave off early March cabin fever. I really look forward to it. If you want to join us, click the link above to go directly to the schedule and register for the sessions you want to see for free.

On the Straits of Mackinac

My family and I decided we wanted a beach to visit for our family vacation this summer, and we chose to take the road trip to St. Ignace, Mich., and the beaches of Lakes Huron and Michigan. We also took the ferry across the lake from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw) offers a unique opportunity to visit a place that is steeped in history and fun. A vacation destination for more than a century, the Island provides the experience of a place with no motorized vehicles. All transportation on the island, except for emergency services, takes place via horse or bicycle.

Two ferry companies take passengers out to the Island from St. Ignace on one side of the Mackinac Bridge and from Mackinaw City on the other side of the Bridge, Shepler’s and Star Line. Our hotel in St. Ignace, Cedar Hill Lodge, offered discounted tickets and shuttle service to Shepler’s, so that’s the ferry we went with. Both companies offer the same services at reasonable prices.

When we arrived, we made our way from the Shepler’s dock down the main street to the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour company, across from the Star Line dock. We wanted to see everything, and the tours are a great place to start, especially if you have some kind of mobility issue. Our driver, Kiki, introduced us all to our horses, Mona and Judy, to start the tour, and provided commentary as she took us on the first leg of the tour from down town, down the historic second street where the original fur traders’ homes can still be seen and visited, and out past the Grand Hotel to the stables and butterfly conservatory. From there, we took the second leg of the tour, behind a team of three hours and a new driver, through the State Park, to Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac.

My six-year-olds loved riding behind the horses, went into raptures over the butterfly conservatory, and ran all over grounds of the fort, which offers daily demonstrations of military life in the 19th century as well as a tea room, children’s play space, and living museum. Its history is connected with Fort Michilimackinac, which originally existed on the mainland in Mackinaw City and now has been largely reconstructed in its original location there. We were all fascinated by the living history the forts represented.

On the island, we walked down the bluff from the Fort to the main street again after lunch in the tea room, and browsed the shops, buying ice cream and fudge to take home. We watched fudgemakers in the windows along main street, dodged bicycles, and took a ferry back to St. Ignace late in the afternoon.

The next day, we drove over the five-mile Mackinac Bridge to visit Mackinaw City and Fort Michilimackinac, and there, we enjoyed leaning about the fort through the costumed presenters, and about its archaeology from the working archaeologists on site. They’re currently digging the site of a fur trader’s home, and they have been for about nine years. The on-site archaeologist said they’ll keep digging until they find nothing else to pull out of the soil, and that the cellars appeared to be used as storage facilities, so there’s lots to find.

As a side note, it’s possible to buy tickets to both forts at one time; I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to the mainland fort so I only purchased Fort Mackinac tickets the day we were there. However, when we did get the opportunity to go to the mainland fort the next day, we were able to pay only the difference between the two kinds of tickets at Michilimackinac, which saved us some money.

Fort Michililmackinac also has a large playground and access to a beach on the Lake Michigan side of the strait, and our girls were able to run off some energy before rain threatened. We headed back across the bridge to find pasties for lunch. We ended up at a St. Ignace staple: Lehto’s Pasties. This storefront has been around for more than fifty years, and it offers outdoor seating. The pasties are twelve ounces, pastry stuffed with steak, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga in a hand pie that’s perfect for lunch. We got three for the four of us, plus beverages, and headed down to the American Legion beach in St. Ignace to eat and collect rocks .

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and our only regret is we couldn’t stay longer.

If you go: Make sure to check out everything you’d like to see in advance and budget accordingly. While nothing was unreasonably priced, everything did cost something. The ferry and the carriage tour were the most expensive parts of the trip, but they were utterly worth it. Also, pay attention to COVID restrictions; we masked up at indoor spaces for safety’s sake.

On visiting Green Bay, Wis.

Most people think of the Green bay Packers when they think of Green Bay, Wis. But not everything in Titletown has to do with the Packers. I recently took my young children there for a long weekend visit with family, and we found plenty of things to do that didn’t have anything to do with football.

That said, if you are a football fan, you’ll want to visit the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. I’ve been there a few times now, and I’ve been to a game at Lambeau Field, as well, several years ago. Green Bay is probably best known for its affiliation with the Packers, and as a lifelong Packer fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. However, families who aren’t into football will enjoy the Zoo and Bay Beach. While we didn’t go this time, my cousins tell me the Children’s Museum and the Wildlife Sanctuary also are a lot of fun.

Our first day in Green Bay, we went to the NEW Zoo and Adventure Park. The Zoo still requires masks for some exhibits, such as feeding the giraffes, but everything is open to air and many folks didn’t bother with masks outside of those specified areas. We started our day there in the farm area, which features some animals for petting. While feeding stations were closed, we were able to see, talk to, and enjoy several different farm animals, including sheep and alpacas. We walked the loop there, and came back to an entrance that took us past African lions and up into the park proper. We waited in line to feed the giraffes, masked up, and then waited some more when our giraffe decided she wanted a drink of water between feedings.

We saw many different animals as we wandered through the rest of the zoo, and the children with us really liked trying to stretch their arms out to match the painted wingspans of the many birds featured there. The Zoo has big signs with the wings painted to be outstretched, and we spent some time trying to see how long our arms are in comparison. The oldest child with us, Clare, had a “wingspan” the same size as a snowy owl. I almost had the wingspan of an American bald eagle.

After a stop for a reasonably priced lunch in the center of the zoo and a walk around the Northwoods loop to see the moose, we finished our stay with an extended viewing of the penguins and a trip through the gift shop.

On Day Two, we went to a place that remains a perennial favorite of the locals: Bay Beach Amusement Park.

Bay Beach offers rides, concessions, and a very nice playground, all set right next to the bay of Green Bay. While the day we went was hot, the breeze off the water made the shady spots tolerable, and quick access to snow cones and water made it possible for us to stay for longer than we originally intended. The park boasts several different rides for people of all ages, and it includes a substantial selection of just-for-kids rides that C and A adored. The park, which is run by City of Green Bay, offers tickets for rides priced at 25 cents each; each ride is between one and four tickets. The children’s rides each took one ticket. We were able to ride all of the rides twice–and our favorites three times–at that price.

We also enjoyed a train ride by the bay, and we had lunch in the pavilion, which is a beautiful building, once a dance hall still pressed into service for receptions and events, that houses an air-conditioned dining area. We ate excellent cheeseburgers on bakery buns and shared cheese fries to go with our bottled water, and spent less than $15 for the three of us to eat. Frankly, I’ve gotten used to higher-priced concessions in the Twin Cities that don’t taste as good as these did, and I was very impressed with the quality of food and service.

We also spent some time in the excellent playground attached to the park, which was, thankfully, shaded.

It was a great weekend away, and the first we’ve had since our last trip to Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri in March, 2020. We’re looking forward to exploring more this summer. Stay well, everyone.

If you go, plan ahead. While everything seems to be open again this summer, some sites are requiring advanced reservations and tickets to ensure a contactless form of crowd control. This wasn’t the case at Bay Beach, but the Zoo required advanced tickets. Double-check the web site of the place you plan to visit in advance to see what their restrictions are for a smooth experience.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me: My day on Rocky Ridge Farm

I’m standing here, next to a life-sized cut out of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in front of her side porch and the door that leads to her farmhouse kitchen on Rocky Ridge Farm, now known as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum.

Visiting Rocky Ridge has been on my personal to-do list since I first found out that she’d lived on this section of Ozark land for more than 60 years. Wilder traveled extensively as a child across the Midwest as her family looked for a place to settle down and prosper, and each of the places they stopped and lived has become part of the “tour” of Wilder sites. With this stop at Rocky Ridge today, I’ve been to every site but the one in upstate New York featured in Farmer Boy.

It’s hard, sometimes, to process the emotions that come from fulfilling a long-held dream. I brought my sister and my little girls along for this trip, and having them there added to my joy at finally walking on Wilder’s land, touring her house, and viewing her things, lovingly preserved as it was when she died on Feb. 10, 1957 at the age of 90. As our docent explained during our tour, Wilder’s daughter, Rose, locked the house three days after Wilder’s death, and it remained in stasis until three months later, when, with Rose’s permission and the formation of the non-profit society that currently maintains it, the home opened to the public for tours.

I’m grasping for words to express how it felt to stand in Laura’s kitchen, seeing the pipes that Almanzo had installed himself to bring their spring into the house so she’d have running water with which to cook. One counter held her flour sifter, a board, rolling pin, and ceramic bowl, looking for all the world that she’d stepped away for a moment from baking project. Her blue willow-patterned dishes, everyday favorites, gleam from an open cupboard. The green linoleum that tops the short counters–made by Almanzo to accommodate her petite size–is original.

Everything in the house remains as she left it in 1957. Through the kitchen to the dining room, visitors can spot Rose’s ladder stairs to her upstairs bedroom on their left. The dining room table, bought by Rose to furnish the Rock House in 1929, had been brought back to the main farm in 1936, when the couple moved back in after spending eight years in the Rock House that Rose had built for them. On a shelf built as a triangle to fit snugly in the corner above a heater, the clock that Almanzo traded a load of hay for during their first Christmas still tells the time, carefully wound every morning by the docents in charge for the day.

I found it hard not to touch things as I went through the house. (My preschoolers were very good at keeping their hands in their pockets. They started teasing me about doing the same, and made me giggle.) But it was hard! Most tables and dressers held a lace doilies, knitted by Laura in a favored “pineapple” pattern. Her sewing box sat under a table, ready for use; her nightgown lay across her bed. Her desk held letters from publishers and others; her parlor window seat held three pillows, one of which was embroidered by Angeline Day Wilder, Almanzo’s mother.

Laura’s library, Almanzo’s canes, Rose’s organ, and most of all, their space, lovingly built, kept, and maintained, echoed with the remembrances of their lives, lived.

The home is the showpiece that Laura intended, made from materials taken right off the farm, and emerging into view from the road at the perfect spot coming out from town. It’s a lovely home, and I can easily see why she didn’t want to be parted from it for long.

The museum by Rocky Ridge, now down from the house in its own space with its own parking lot, continued the collection of things that once belonged to many of the people in the Little House. Pa’s fiddle, once owned by Charles Ingalls, has pride of place in the gallery. But we can also see Caroline (Ma) Ingalls’ mother-of-pearl handled pen, Mary’s Braille slate, and Rose’s writing desk. I had to send my little girls, who had been very patient but were getting restless, with my sister into the attached store early so I could be sure to view it all: every. single. thing.

Of course, I spent way too much money in the gift shop. But I also signed stock; they had several copies of my first book, The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist. I also spotted it in the Rock House in a display about Rose, which I found flattering.

We had a very late lunch in town, then took pictures in Mansfield’s town square and visited the Wilder and Lane graves in the cemetery. I could have spent days, but one day was enough to view absolutely everything.

I highly recommend a stop if you’re in the area. My little girls, at 4 and 5, found it to be a fun experience. Walking the trails around the farm gave them plenty of exercise; somehow, and I realize how silly this is, I hadn’t realized that a farm in the mountains would be on such a significant incline. We were prepared with good shoes, so it didn’t trip us up. If mobility is an issue for you, don’t worry; handicapped parking is available at the museum, the main farm house, and the Rock House. We chose, mostly, to walk. We avoided the over-the-hill walking trail between the Rock House and the farm house, but otherwise walked everywhere.

I sent my mother a selfie of my sister, my little girls, and me, all smiling, pink-cheeked, from Laura’s front porch. She texted back, “Cool! Do you feel different?”

I gotta say, “Kinda, yeah.”

Frozen 2: The importance of the personal journey

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a month, as I managed to see Frozen 2 the first weekend it was out. My youngest daughters, their biological grandmother, and I went to a matinee the first Saturday of its run.

I need to preface with a little backstory: My five-year-old adores Elsa. “Let It Go” has become the anthem that she sings at the top of her lungs as she runs around the house with an Elsa-themed fleece blanket draped around her shoulders, and the key phrase that gets yelled is, “Stay away from me!”

Appropriate, because A is cripplingly shy with strangers.

So the moment we all saw the first Frozen 2 trailer, we knew we were going to go.

And frankly, I thought the second movie much better than the first, but that’s probably because it resonated so deeply with me as an adult.

The story this time focuses on the major theme of “becoming”: how one finds their place in life. Elsa learns about her origins and purpose; Anna learns what it is to be alone and how to manage that; Kristoff learns about his role in their story; and Olaf learns what it means to grow up.

The story begins in autumn, rather than winter, with the music reflecting a somewhat ominous theme in a contrastingly cheerful tune, “Some things never change.” This, of course, foreshadows that things inevitably do change, and viewers are left to watch the journey of these characters as they grow into themselves. Elsa hears a call that she can’t resist following, and Anna insists on going along. Where Anna goes, Kristoff follows, and therefore we have that trio plus Olaf and Sven heading on an adventure into an enchanted forest in the far north.

All is not as it seems in the enchanted forest, and as the story progresses, each character faces some hard truths. In the end, of course, all is well, if different, and along the way we learn that change is hard, but it can be handled, one step at a time.

The pacing kept the attention of my preschoolers, which has become my standard gauge of interest. When things looked to be getting too scary, Olaf popped up with something to lighten the mood, generally. But at one particularly low point in the film, Olaf, himself, is gone, and Anna is left to pick up and move on entirely alone. Her song, “The Next Right Thing,” felt like my personal anthem when I heard it. I was not the only adult in the audience who cried.

However, this is Disney; everything turned out happy in the end, if different than before. But the theme remained: some things never change; some things stay the same; but some things do, and change doesn’t have to be bad.

It’s a good lesson, delivered with entertaining grace. We loved the film, immediately downloaded the soundtrack, and started singing a new tune around the house. One girl will call out, “Ah-ah-ah-ah” in a perfect call from the woods, and the other will answer.

Soon we’re all headed “Into the Unknown” for our own adventure.

P.S. : A is getting an authentic Elsa costume with cape for Christmas. I’m really looking forward to seeing her face.

A Saturday at the Great Minnesota Get-Together

Every year, the Minnesota State Fair calls all comers to visit, eat, play, talk politics, and view the best of the best of the farm-produced animals, produce, crops, and goods available in the State. The event happens at the end of August, culminating in Labor Day, and for some, it’s an event not to be missed.

I first went to the fair almost twenty years ago, when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Minnesota. My husband and I lived in a tiny apartment in a complex right next to the grounds, and complex residents received free tickets to the fair to compensate for the hassle we faced during the season just getting in and out of our driveway. So, we went.

It’s become a bit of a tradition, ever since.

We haven’t been in the last few years, because it just hasn’t been possible for one reason or another, but we found that we had a free Saturday during the fair, with weather projected to be utterly gorgeous. We bundled up our preschoolers and headed to the Twin Cities early, to try and beat the “big” crowd, which was futile, as everyone else had the same idea.

We’ve learned a few things in our time going to the fair. First, never park next to the grounds. On truly beautiful days, those lots fill up fast, can cost quite a bit, and can be difficult to navigate to and from. Our preference is to park in an express park-and-ride lot and take the express bus right to the main gates. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and we don’t have to deal with fair traffic. This year, we parked at the Mall of America express lot across from the East Parking Garage.

I bought our transit tickets on the Metro Transit app, showed them to the friendly Metro Transit staff, and on we hopped–two adults and two preschoolers for $10, round trip. (Next year, the same trip will cost us $20 as the girls will be too old for the under five discount.)

The bus took us directly to the main entrance and Transit Hub at the back of one of the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus parking lots. There, we could purchase tickets on site. We opted to buy ours online, and present the bar code for scanning on my phone to gain entrance to the grounds. Once inside, we headed directly for the West End Market, perched at that entrance.

The West End Market used to be Heritage Square, and traces of that history remain in a newer building that offers a displays and exhibits about the fair’s history and the art that surrounds the newer open-air stalls with goods that speak to Minnesota’s past. I stopped at the Watkins booth for vanilla extract, a staple in my kitchen. Matt took the girls to the shaved ice cart for two enormous confections that we all shared before girding our loins to head toward the Midway.

Because it was a beautiful Saturday at the fair, the crowds were challenging to navigate. I’ve seen, in the past, crowds so thick it would be easy to body surf through them. We managed, though, scooping up a bucket of fresh french fries, taking a turn at a feat-of-strength game booth, and viewing horses. We followed one lone sheep on a leash up Judson Avenue toward the international market, another favorite stop, and made use of the restrooms next to it.

(Restrooms at the fair are another big story. Fun fact: It was coverage of the 1911 Minnesota State Fair that led me to the work that would define how I approached my dissertation and later book: The Farmer’s Wife magazine. A reporter asked the editor of the Farmer’s Wife about the new restrooms on Machinery Hill at the fair, which were meant to offer farm women a respite from their corsets and other accoutrements. They were well-received.)

In recent years, big, well-maintained facilities have been added near the big market places to supplement existing restrooms, and while there will still lines on the women’s sides, the addition of family restrooms made it much easier to get in and out with two little girls who had to go, like, right now.

At the International Market, Matt took the ladies around the booths while I held a spot in the benches in front of the stage, which featured music by Papa Shalifa in the style of the Caribbean. We listened for a while, dancing, until we needed to escape the crowd and head toward the street to find some lunch.

We bought fresh, piping hot corn dogs from a truck on the corner, and turned up the road to find a spot on a bench facing the street  outside the main food building. We ate our corn dogs, drank our bottled water, and played with the new toys the girls had won at the strength booth. We watched the crowds, and I headed into the food building to get another fair favorite: deep-fried cheese curds.

The line for the curds stretched out the doors on both sides of the building, but it went very quickly. The booth is popular enough that the staff there have the procedure down. Present cash only at the window, get your ticket, then move down the counter where someone will take your ticket and hand you your curds. I got a bucket. It was a theme, OK? And we ate them all.

Keeping our spot on the street became important when  we realized the daily 2 p.m. parade was about to start. The girls clapped and waved at the bands, the farm and community princesses, the funny floats, and the Shriner’s cars. We loved watching the crowds go by.

After the parade, we ambled up another block and over to see some more of the booths, the food, and the fun. We watched people slide down the giant slide for a  minute, then looked through the merchant booths in the grandstand. We took a break, then, hanging out in the shade under the grandstand and trying to decide if we were up for doing anything else at the fair.

We decided we had to do one more thing: Get a bucket of chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha’s, a fair tradition that goes really well with the ice cold milk they also sell. We munched as we made our way out the same way we came in, taking the bus back to our car.

If you really want to do the entire fair, you’ll need to go more than once. That said, we managed to eat all the fair food we were craving, see a show, catch the parade, see some animals, go shopping, and enjoy the sunshine, so we felt accomplished. If you want to go, the fair runs through Labor Day. Our girls weren’t interested in the rides, but they have those, too. Have fun!

A Family Trip to Toronto

Have you ever traveled with preschoolers?

It’s an adventure.

Last week, I attended my annual discipline’s convention, AEJMC, this year held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’m a member of the History Division’s leadership team, and I presented an award, judged a paper competition, and attended panels and presentations with new research in the field.

I also brought along my husband and youngest two children, both of whom are now 4. I was not alone. Colleagues with children often make the trip, as AEJMC’s convention always falls in the first two weeks of August, when many summer camps and plans are complete and school has not yet started. It gives families an opportunity for a last getaway before our calendars fill up.

In our case, it also gave our youngest an opportunity for multiple travel firsts, and we made a game of it for our younger adventurers.

First number one: Riding in an airplane.

We flew Air Canada, which is a remarkably family friendly airline. We four ended up in a row, two seats on either side of the aisle. I tucked C in by the window on my side and A sat by the window on the other side, with my husband next to her. Ahead of our trip, we packed each of them a backpack with a change of clothes, a Mifold car seat (just in case), LeapPads, and snacks. Our ladies put on their earphones and watched Mickey Mouse on the back of the seats in front of them; they thought it was a treat! We learned about how we stay buckled on a plane, but we can unbuckle if the seat belt light is off, if necessary.

C borrowed my phone to look out her window, because she was too short to see out without an extra angle. She thought the clouds were neat.

First number two: Riding on a train

A was super excited to ride a real train for the first time. We’d been on small train rides before, at amusement parks, the zoo, and a museum, but this would be the first time we took a train to actually go somewhere. We’d learned that the Union-Pearson Express train would take us directly from the airport to downtown Toronto, within blocks of our hotel, for about $10 U.S. per adult. Children under 12 ride free, which seemed like a good bargain for us. It was fast, easy, and the girls enjoyed watching the city go by “fast”.

Once at Union Station, we went outside, planning to catch a cab. We couldn’t find a taxi stand, and ended up walking the few blocks to our hotel instead. That turned out to be a good thing, as we all had the wiggles from sitting still for so long.

Our hotel had a great pool, and we spent some time in it after we found a very late lunch/early dinner underground at a Food Court that is part of the PATH system in Toronto. PATH is essentially an underground walking trail that links much of the downtown area and helps prevent having to walk outside in bad weather.

On our second day, we had first number three: Riding on a subway.

We took the subway to the Museum stop, and we headed above ground to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. Friendly museum staff directed us to the second level, which they claimed was the most popular with small children. We found that to be the case; the girls loved the dinosaurs, the children’s gallery with numerous hands-on activities, the bat cave, and the birds.

In early afternoon, we headed to the familiar Golden Arches across from the Museum for a late lunch, then took a walk around the outside of the Museum, getting ice cream cones from a truck and watching the pigeons. Eventually, we made our way back toward our hotel, and spent more time in the pool.

I was tied up with numerous conference activities on our third day, but the PATH allowed my husband to take the girls to Eaton Center, a large shopping mall that held a Disney Store as well as fountains and other fun things to see.

On our last day, the girls had first number four: Riding in a taxi.

The Mifold car seats are brilliant. They fold down into a compact rectangle that is lightweight and can easily be stowed in a backpack, but they are fully compliant with U.S. and Canadian federal safety standards. I unfolded ours, buckled the girls in, and we took a short cab ride to Roundhouse Park, which is the area right by the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Railway Museum.

The Museum wasn’t yet open when we got there, but we walked around the plaza by the fountain, ate cotton candy, and eventually made our way back to Union Station to take the train back to the airport for our return trip.

When asked, the girls said their favorite part of the trip was “everything,” though A really liked the train, both liked the pool, and C really liked the plane. All in all, it was a successful first big travel adventure for all.

Last Day in London: St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Wall, and the Museum of London

I arrived in London shortly after noon by train from Manchester, and had to make the critical decision about what to do with my last afternoon. I decided to combine two things that exist fairly close to each other: St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London.

As one docent put it, St. Paul’s claims the honor of being the people’s church. When great tragedy befalls England, people flock to the cathedral for solidarity, fellowship, and prayer. This version of the cathedral dates to just after the Great Fire of London in 1666, which took out most of the city proper. Redesigned by legendary architect Christopher Wren (who is interred there), building is constructed in the shape of a cross and contains the only dome of its kind.

The steps of St. Paul’s beckon to all (and are featured in Mary Poppins), and the day I was there, the space was reasonably crowded with visitors. Despite the crowd, the cathedral retains its status as a place of worship, as visitors are reminded on the hour with a moment of silence and prayers. I took the self-guided audio tour to learn about the art, architecture, and people of St. Paul’s, and I felt moved.

At the high altar, I lit a candle for those I have lost this year, including my mentor, Hazel Dicken-Garcia. I was moved to tears, and knelt in prayer until I calmed, before heading below to the crypt, cafe, and gift shop, to take a break.

Replenished, I walked up to the Museum of London. It’s a relatively short walk, though right at the site I got confused about where to go to get into the Museum itself. Finally, I figured out I had to go up, and that made all the difference. I found the escalator entrance that took me to the third level of the Museum, which built around the remnants of ancient city walls.

Inside, I wandered through exhibits that focused on the history of the city from its earliest roots. They feature artifacts from every period available, from the Neolithic to Roman, from Medieval to Victorian, and from Industrial to the present day. I think my favorite was the Victorian walk, set up to appear like a small neighborhood in Victorian London. I also enjoyed the current exhibition on women’s suffrage in London.

Finally, I wandered out along the old city wall path to get to Moorgate, the tube station that took me back to the train station for my left luggage. Utterly exhausted at this point, I opted not to take tube and train back out to Heathrow (near which I had hotel reservations) and chose instead to take the more expensive but less stressful taxi option. My driver was pleasant and the drive out went smoothly. Our route took us past the William Hogarth House and Chiswick Gardens, which I earmarked for my next trip.

Getting around: I chose to use public transportation for most of my trip. It’s relatively inexpensive (I spent about $50 on tube and bus fares over two weeks) and easy to figure out. Put your walking feet on, though. And if you have mobility issues, be aware that not all tube stations have handicapped accessibility. I took a lot of stairs, and that did take a toll on my aging knees. Still, it was overall a great experience.

Day 5 in Manchester: Chetham Library, Manchester Cathedral, and Pub Lunch

Saturday in Manchester brought tickets to a walking tour of the oldest public and free English-speaking library in the world: Chetham Library.

The original complex was built in 1420 to form a collegiate church in Manchester, and thus, it has been part of an institution of learning for that long. The facilities themselves are medieval–part of what drew me there–but the library itself made my happy little bibliophile heart hum. Rows and rows of books enclosed by glass covers, all under the medieval timbered room, beckon all “scholars and all others afflicted” to visit, read, and study.

That line, “scholars and all others afflicted,” spoken by our guide Jonathan Schofield (who sounded as though the phrase was in quotes for him, too) struck me as a phrase that characterizes scholarship as madness, which, fair enough. The stools in the library, adorned with a carved letter “S” in each seat, paid homage to the idea of “scholar” and were, Schofield assured us, original to the library. Also original? A collection of chained books so valuable at their donation in 1655 that scholars were required to read them in place.

Our tour of the medieval buildings culminated in the library’s reading room, which played host once to such notable minds as Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx, the latter two of whom spent most of their time in an alcove now marked as the site of their study. The reading room itself was likely the bedchamber of John Dee, who served as the Warden (or Headmaster or Director) Of Chetham from 1595 to 1605. Dee, of course, is well known for his occult scholarship and advice to Elizabeth I.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and I took numerous pictures.

After the tour, Eddie and I went for pub lunch at Old Wellington, a nearby pub that claims the honor of oldest building in Manchester. It existed as early as 1552. We sat for lunch on the second floor, overlooking a courtyard packed with people enjoying a pint and sunshine.

They’re famous for pies, apparently, and so that’s what I got for lunch. Mine was a ham, chicken, and cheese pie in a short crust with puff pastry topper, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and steamed veggies. Service was quick, food was delicious, and the ambience warm and social.

After lunch, we wandered over the courtyard to the Cathedral. We spotted actress Sophie Thompson in the courtyard, and she graciously held the door for us as we all went through. We left her to her business, but we did do some quiet fan-girling after the fact. Ms. Thompson currently stars on the British television program Coronation Street, filmed in Manchester.

The Cathedral was beautiful. It was bombed in World War II, and lovingly restored. Patrons over the years have donated funds to restore many of the stained glass windows, and a recent fundraising campaign also led to the installation of a lovely new organ, which was being played while we were there.

We wrapped up our day by wandering down Deansgate to the John Rylands Library again, this time to see the just-opened Peterloo Massacre exhibit therein. Staff did a marvelous job with the documents and other materials they displayed to tell that story, including original handwritten and printed accounts of the day and its aftermath. I highly recommend a visit.

Last day in Manchester, coming up.

Days 2 and 3 in Manchester: Archives, a Walking Tour, and Tapas for Dinner

My primary purpose for this trip, of course, was to gather materials for my ongoing research project, which focuses in general on the community-building function of media. In particular on this trip, I had intended to investigate the Manchester Guardian-turned-national newspaper, something that I still think a good idea.

But on my first day here, visiting the People’s History Museum, I stumbled across a working-class publication that was printed during four critical years in British history, and the archive maintained at PHM. Accordingly, I have spent the last two days acquainting myself with that period’s history, the struggles of the working-class, and the British press during that period.

I also digitized a significant chunk of the newspapers’ archive with which to continue my work.

So Day 2 in Manchester found me in St. Peter’s Square, looking for the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, at which I was to meet a walking tour group that promised a look at Manchester’s political roots and history.

Pankhurst, a pioneering suffragette, is said to have founded the militancy of the suffrage movement right there in Manchester. Her statue features the petite woman standing on a kitchen chair, arms outstretched as if to rally a crowd, and the half-circle of stone at her back reads, “Rise Up Women!”

(I’ve been unable to shake a tune from Mary Poppins from head, ever since. “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats, and dauntless crusaders for women’s votes; though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid; …. Political equality and equal rights with men! Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”)

The statue was a good place to start the tour, and the guide, Ed Glinert, was clearly knowledgeable about the political events in Manchester and the Peterloo Massacre, in particular. After a stop at town hall to see Pankhurst’s portrait in collage, and a look at the Peterloo memorial in a kind of walkway between it and the adjoining building, he headed us off to the site of the Peterloo Massacre itself. Manchester Central now rests on the site of the field that in August of 1819 saw peaceful protesters (agitating for universal suffrage) mercilessly struck down by an army of thugs hired for the purpose.

Glinert brought us to the site, discussed its history, showed us the place where the stage (built of two wooden carts spliced together) had been, and then walked us through the Radisson Blu, which now stands on that corner and retains memorials to the site’s history as a gathering place for protest. The Free Trade Hall stood there before it was torn down to make way for the hotel.

We walked down the steps where Christabel Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline) and Annie Kenney were kicked out of a liberal rally there in 1905 after shouting questions about whether the party would grant suffrage to women. The tour continued through town to St. Ann’s Square, site of the first public vote in Manchester in 1832, and by sites of Friedrich Engels’ offices, the Working Man’s Church, and Crown Court (where the last judicial decision to execute a criminal in Britain was handed down in 1864). We finished at the People’s History Museum, of course, and I spent more time with the exhibits there.

(All told, I’ve been at the PHM three days this week in Manchester, and plan to go again on Saturday to see the Peterloo exhibit that opens then. Truly a remarkable find; thanks to my friend Edwina Higgins for recommending I start there!)

Day 3 in Manchester put me back in the archives at PHM to complete the collection of data, and I had a good chat with the archivists about the press and Peterloo. While Peterloo isn’t my focus this round, it is relevant to the press struggles that followed it, and to the founding of the Manchester Guardian. To be here this week, when two different exhibitions are opening about Peterloo, feels serendipitous.

I finished Day 3 with tapas for dinner at Tapeo & Wine with friend Eddie. I love tapas, and it’s tough to find in my home state, so I expected to enjoy the meal. I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Fresh assorted breads, including olive bread, a Manchego cheese board, roasted eggplant with feta, meat cannoli in bechamel, Spanish omelet with potato, olives, and a multi-textured chocolate desert with Irish Cream foam rounded out the meal. I’d forgotten how lovely it is to simply relax, and take my time eating, chatting, and enjoying the food. The Spanish music playing in the background gave way to a live guitarist somewhere during the course of the three hours we spent there, and the laid-back but friendly ambience made the experience a joy. I’d head here again in a heart beat.

Day 4 in Manchester is a writing day, so there won’t be much to share. But I’m heading out with Eddie again on day five to tour some other memorable spots in Manchester, and looking forward to it.